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California's Diverse Wild Trout Populations, with Charlie Schneider

Description: This week my guest is Charlie Schneider [45:30] from Cal Trout, a great organization that Orvis has supported over the years because they are really effective in protecting wild trout habitat. Charlie talks about the many species and subspecies (or races depending on whether you are a lumper or a splitter) of wild trout found in California, some of are unique to California. The incredibly diverse topography and geology (and proximity to the Pacific Ocean) contribute to this array of salmonids and it's fascinating to get an overview of them.
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Podcast Transcript:

Tom: Hi. And welcome to The Orvis Fly Fishing Podcast. This is your host, Tom Rosenbauer. And my guest this week is Charlie Schneider from CalTrout, which is a great organization. And we're gonna be talking about the various wild trout species that are available in California. California is a very diverse state geologically and geographically. And there are lots of different races or subspecies of rainbows, and cutthroats, and golden trout in California. It's a rich ecosystem and I think that, you know, California's our most populous state, and people think of it as being urbanized, but there are lots of wildlands in California and lots of wild trout. So, I hope you enjoy the podcast with Charlie.
A couple of announcements. One is, what do you think of those new Helios rods? If you've missed it, there is a new Helios rod out. You can learn all about 'em on the Orvis website. The best way to learn about 'em is to go to your Orvis store or Orvis dealer and try one out. I think you'll be impressed. People talked about the difficulty of improving on the Helios 3, and I was a doubter myself until I started fishing with these new rods. And they are truly superior.
So, you know, if you already have a Helios 3, don't feel insecure, they're still great rods. I wouldn't run out and buy a new Helios if you just bought a Helios 3. But if you need a new rod, I'd take a real close look at 'em. And another announcement. I'm hosting a trip as I do every fall at Three Rivers Ranch in Warm River, Idaho. There are still some openings available. We just announced it actually. And it's September 28th to October 5th, 2024 with actually, 2 extra days of fishing if you want to stay on for 2 extra days.
Obviously, there's an extra charge for two extra days of room and board, and guiding. It's a wonderful trip, I do it every year. Three Rivers is one of my favorite places in the world, and the people there, and the guides, and the fishing are very special. So, anyway, if you're interested, contact Orvis Travel. There is a page on the travel website that describes the trip, and if you'd like to come fishing with me next September and October, sign up. Love to see you there.
All right. And now the Fly Box. The Fly Box is where you ask me questions and I try to answer 'em, or you make a comment, or you share a tip with other listeners. If I think your tip is worth sharing with people, I will add it to the podcast. So, you can send me your questions at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. via email. And if you want, you can attach a voice file to your email, and maybe I'll read it on the air.
I'm a little bit low on voice files these days, so, you know, if you have an inclination to record something and send it to me, please do. Please don't do it in your car while you're driving. The noise in the background doesn't make for very good audio. Cars are great places to record audio as long as you're not in traffic. Just sitting in a car parked in a quiet place is a great place to record audio, but not as you're driving, please.
And the first question is... Oh, I didn't get the name. Well, you'll know who you are when I read your question. "Quick question. I grew up fishing the Catskills and regularly fish the free stones in the area. My particular river has an abundance of wild rainbows and brown trout. I find Euro nymphing extremely productive in the pocket water. However, in the long, deep pools, I seem to have trouble catching fish. What am I doing wrong? Should I be adding more weight, jigging the flies, or should I be switching my tactics entirely to streamers? Also, one last thing, do you have any recommendations for a dace fly pattern? Thanks for all you do."
Well, you know, in my experience, fishing slower pools with nymphs is a harder way to fish them. You know, in fast water, fish don't get as good of a look at your nymph. They have to make a quick grab, and it's easier to fool 'em. I mean, slower water, it's tougher to get a real natural drift with your fly. And it's also, you know, the fish get a better look at your fly. So, you know, as much as we like to think our nymphs look just like a mayfly nymph, they don't. They simulate a mayfly nymph, and in fast water they're good enough.
In slower water, you probably don't have as good of a chance, but there's some things you can do. One is, you know, most of the serious Euro nymphers that I know in slower water will switch to an indicator, a yarn indicator, or a dry dropper. You can fish, you can Euro nymph in slower water. There's a number of problems. Probably the most critical thing is you have to get relatively close to the fish when you're Euro nymphing. And in fast water, it's not that much of a problem, you can get pretty close to the fish. You know, they feel protected in the faster current because they can't be seen.
But in a slower pool, you know, you're wading and you're pushing waves, and the fish can see you better. And so, it's really tough to get closer to fish in those deeper pools. I wouldn't add more weight because the fish are generally gonna be feeding in water that's 2 to 4 feet deep. In a big pool, they're not gonna be feeding very actively when they're way down deep in 6 feet of water.
So, instead of adding more weight, I would add less weight and try to use... You know, it's easier to sink a fly in a slower pool. I would use less weight. I think you're gonna get a little bit more natural drift on your nymph. I would try to use nymphs that are maybe a little bit more imitative than suggestive. So, you may wanna leave off a lot of the flashy stuff. You may even not wanna use a beaded nymph. Use a nymph like a pheasant tail, or a Prince Nymph without a bead on it. Try that. But, you know, I would really try dry drop. You can actually fish dry dropper and indicator with the Euro rig in a long leader. But, again, it's gonna be tough to get close enough to those fish without spooking them.
A streamer will work, obviously. That's a good tactic for a deep pool, or just look for rises. You know, that's typically the way I fish deeper, slower pools is I look for rises. The other thing you might wanna try is particularly in the tail of the pool, is swinging a soft tackle or a wet fly. That often works quite well in the tail of a pool.
Regarding a dace pattern. You know, there's probably no better imitation for a Blacknose Dace or a Longnose Dace than Art Flick's old Blacknose Dace bucktail. And you can still find this in fly shops. It's an older pattern but it works quite well, and it's nice and slim, so it imitates a dace quite well. So, that would be my recommendation.
Alex: Hey, Tom, this is Alex. I really appreciate the podcast. Thank you so much for you and Orvis spending the resources and time in this podcast. So, yesterday I was fishing some tail waters. It was the tail of a pool on the river going to very fast water. It was about 3 feet deep. I got about 30 to 40 strikes swinging soft tackles. Love swinging soft tackles, it's something really enjoyable, but out of the strikes, none of the fish were landed.
I tried different things. I tried using a sinking tip. I tried using a regular leader with split shot. I switched out my flies with varying hook gaps. I sharpened the hooks. I tried holding the tip up. I tried holding the tip down. I tried holding the tip out perpendicular to the current. I tried strip strikes, I tried gentle lifts, I tried hard sets. I even tried not setting at all and letting the fish hook itself. Sometimes I would try just a gentle hook set and then drive that hook in as soon as I felt the fish on. You know, all of these, either I got no hook set where the fly would just pull out or the fish would spit the hook, or I'd lose the fish once it got to the fast-moving water.
So, I guess I'm just wondering, is swinging soft tackles just not something that is feasible in fast-moving water because I'm going downstream? Or is it just one of those, like, there's something else I need to do in that situation? I'm kind of at a loss here. Ironically, I was on the way back, I was listening to your February 21st of '21 podcast with Dave Jensen about why we miss fish. And you had asked, "Hey, sometimes are there just days it's not meant to be?" And Dave said, no, he never has a problem landing fish. And y'all kinda laughed about that. But I'd love your opinion on this one. Is there something I'm doing wrong? Something I can do different? But anyways, thank you so much again. I appreciate it. I look forward to your answer.
Tom: So, Alex, boy, that's a tough one. You know, it's always tougher to hook fish when they're downstream of you because of the angle. And it sounds like you've tried everything and, you know, there's a couple of things that might come into play here. One is that, as I said, it's just tougher to hook fish when they're downstream. And generally, when you're swinging a fly in a tight line, you don't wanna set the hook. You wanna just let the fish hook itself because the line's already under tension. And if you set the hook, you tend to pull the fly out of the fish's mouth because of the angle.
So, one of the things you can do is try to get a little bit more across from the fish. And then, you know, almost dead drift the flies, but not quite as an abrupt a swing. That may help because there you do wanna set the hook if you're directly across from a fish, you do wanna set the hook unless the line is starting to swing and under a lot of tension, probably won't hook itself.
You know, you've sharpened your hooks, you've tried different flies. But again, I wouldn't do a hook set at all when the fish are downstream of you. And, yeah, you're gonna lose fish in fast water too if you hook 'em on a downstream because they just generally aren't hooked as well. They're hooked on just the outside of the lip or the tip of the lip.
Some things that happen here also is that there may be a lot of small fish mixed in with the bigger fish. And small fish, you know, you'll often get bumps on wet flies. Smaller fish will make a grab and their mouth isn't big enough to put the fly in their mouth or, you know, they just have a smaller mouth, so there's less place to hook. So, a lot of those fish could be smaller fish, but I really don't think you're doing anything wrong. I would just chalk it up to having a rough day and go back and, you know, make sure your hooks are sharp. Try not to have the fish directly downstream of you. Don't set the hook, and try to get a little bit more across from the fish the next time.
Here's an email from Andrew. "I got a couple of questions that I'd love to hear your comments on. I've been a long-time listener, but don't seem to recall them being brought up in the past. I live near and consistently fish a river by my house that has a pretty consistent run of salmon and steelhead each spring and fall. I've been lucky enough to actually catch two steelhead in my years here with the help of your Orvis video and with Jeff Blood. But I had a question about the fish during nonspawning times.
Am I safe to assume that because there's a steelhead run that there will be resident trout in the river? My thinking is that they hatch in the river, then spend time in that system until they mature to a size where they then venture out into Lake Ontario. I've caught only one trout during the summer month, July, and it was only about 12 inches. So, my thinking is that it was a fish that hatched in the river and was nearing its eventual journey to the bigger water.
I guess, my basic question is whether I can assume that a river that has a steelhead run holds varying sizes of trout during the spring and summer season. If you said, no, I'd feel much better about my lack of success. But if your answer is, yes, I can confidently declare that it's my ineptitude."
And question number two, "I watched your video with George Daniel countless times and have experimented with Euro nymphing on some of my trips to this river. I can't seem to figure out the casting portion of the approach. Sometimes I managed to get my fly where I was hoping, but without the weight of the fly line, I have a really hard time casting. I almost feel like a hall-type cast has worked best for accuracy, but wonder if there was something I was missing. Finally, I can't thank you and the team at Orvis for the amazing content you produce to make a newcomer feel welcome and not intimidated by the various nuances of our sport."
All right. So, question one, Andrew, not all of those rivers in the Great Lake system can support spawning steelhead and salmon. You know, I grew up on Lake Ontario and there are a number of streams that I go back and fish for salmon and steelhead and brown trout. But when I was a kid and fished those streams, all they had in them were things like rock bass, smallmouth, chubs, and sunfish. A lot of those streams are just too warm during the summer to support trout. There's not enough oxygen in the water, the water isn't cold enough. And many, many of those streams are supported by stocking.
So, the streams are stocked with fish, and then the fish run right back down into Lake Ontario and they come back to try to spawn in the fall. But often it's not successful just because the habitat isn't right to support hatching trout in the spring and summer. So, unless you know that there are wild steelhead or wild stream-breaded salmon in that stream you may not find any trout during the summer. So, I wouldn't worry about it. It's probably not your ineptitude. It's probably just that they aren't there and they're supported entirely by hatchery fish.
Regarding the casting, I would just watch that video more closely. If you watch George carefully, the casting motion is not the same casting motion that we use when we cast a fly line. If you notice, George uses mostly a wrist flick. He doesn't use much forearm at all, it's just a quick flick of the wrist.
And this is why there are rods that are designed specifically for Euro nymphing that have very, very soft tips, slow tips because they will bend enough to get the cast out there with just the weight of the flies at the end of there. And you wanna make sure that you use a water load behind you, and then just turn around and just flick your wrist. Don't try to use your whole forearm or your shoulder in the cast.
And again, I would just watch it carefully. You'll get it. You're not gonna be able to cast quite as far but you will develop the muscle memory on casting those Euro nymphs. But try just flicking your wrist, and see if that helps.
Here's an email from Jack from Nova Scotia. "Just had a few questions regarding motivation. It seems that every winter I'm going through an obsession phase of fly fishing. I'm constantly daydreaming about a big brook trout on a dry fly and having watched nothing but fly fishing videos all winter long. But every time the season opens on April 1st, I get all my gear ready and go and head to a local river about 10 minutes away from home. I bring my 9'5'' weight and my 6-foot ultralight spinning rod. And every time I use my fly rod, I always catch myself putting my fly rod down and gravitating to my spinning rod.
Just wondering if you had any tips to have more confidence in my fly fishing, although I've been fly fishing on and off for the past 10 years or so. Should I just stop bringing my spinning rod along with me and force myself to use the fly rod more? And I was wondering if you have ever been to Nova Scotia for some trout on a fly rod? And if you have any tips and good rivers around the province? Would be greatly appreciated to hear back from you on the podcast. And thanks for everything you do for the fly fishing community."
So, Jack, yeah, you gotta leave your spinning rod at home if you wanna catch a decent fish on a fly rod because it's often easier to catch fish on a spinning rod. And part of it may be time of year. You know, early in the season it's tough to beat a spinning rod because you can get deeper and you can cover more water with it. And as the season progresses, as the rivers get lower and they warm up a little bit, trout will start to respond more to insects and they're gonna be easier to catch on a fly rod.
So, yeah, maybe take your spinning rod the first few weeks of the season, but as the water warms, leave your spinning rod home, take your fly rod. And I think that, you know, just concentrating on it and working at it, and going at the right time of year, spring and summer and even fall are gonna be better times a year than early spring to use a fly rod because the fish are gonna be responding more to hatching insects.
And, yes, I have fished Nova Scotia for trout. When I was a kid, my parents would take us every summer to Nova Scotia in a Volkswagen camper. And I loved Nova Scotia, and I did catch lots of small brook trout. I don't think I ever caught one over 10 inches long. But, you know, I was just learning fly fishing then. I had a ball.
Regarding rivers to fish, it's been a long time since I've fished for trout in Nova Scotia. I've fished for both trout and salmon there, but I couldn't give you any recommendations. You're gonna have to find that information locally. It's gonna be much better than my memory from 50 years ago of catching trout in Nova Scotia.
Here's an email from Andrew. "Two not questions for you today. One, what are your thoughts on using the non-slip loop knot for dry flies? I like to use it for nymph, sweats, and streamers, and I find I can tie it more consistently than the improved clinch. Any downsides to using it for dry flies, any benefits?
Number two, I've heard from you and others about the Bimini Twist, but I wonder if you've heard of or had experience with the Australian Braid Knot. The end result is similar to a Bimini Twist, and it's also purported to preserve 100% of the line's breaking strength. Seems like it could be easier to tie as well although I've never attempted either if I'm being honest. Just curious."
So, Andrew, I don't see any benefit to using a loop knot for a dry fly. You know, you've got two pieces of tippet material coming out of the eye, so that's gonna make kind of a messier junction in front of the fly. And I don't think you get any benefit from drag-free drifts by using a loop knot. And I would just use, instead of using the improved clinch, I would do the standard clinch. Standard clinch should be easy, just as easy as the non-slip mono loop. And the other knot you might try is the Double Davy Knot, which is a very popular knot, very easy to tie, and very strong. So, if anybody wants to chime in and tell me that there's an advantage to using a loop knot for dry flies drop me a line, but I don't see any benefits.
I took a look at that link you sent me on the Australian Braid Knot, and it looks interesting. And I haven't used it myself. I haven't even attempted to tie one, but I looked at how it's tied and I don't think it's gonna be that much easier than tying a Bimini Twist. But the way it's constructed does look like it may preserve 100% knot strength. But, again, it doesn't look that easy to me. I'm gonna try it, but I haven't tried it either. Give it a try and see how it works for you.
Here's an email from Mark from Courtney. "I have a question about rod weight. I fish low-productivity rivers and streams on Vancouver Island. I mostly catch small to very small rainbow trout and cutthroat on a 9-foot-4-weight rod. But for a few months a year, there's a small chance of catching large steelhead. I always thought rod weight was about fish size. The bigger the fish, the heavier the rod you'll need to bring it in. But lately, I've been wondering if it's more about the size of the fly and/or the casting distance. The bigger the fly or the farther the cast, the heavier the rod you'll need. I'm sure it's probably a mix of the two, but I'd love to hear your thoughts."
Yeah, Mark, you're right, it is a mix of the two, but, you know, in general, in trout fishing it's all about the size of the fly you're casting. You know, a 4-weight rod is not gonna cast a streamer or a really big dry fly very well, or a dry drop arrangement. You're better off with a five or a six for those purposes. But it's more about the size of the fly and the distance you need to cast as you accurately stated.
But it does come into play when you're fighting much larger fish. So, for instance, 9-foot-4-weight rod is plenty of rod to land a 20 or even 22-inch fish. Easy to do. You can put a lot of pressure on them, even with a light tipt. And you can land a fish almost as quickly with a 4 weight as you can with a six. But when you get into, you know, the really big fish, like a large steelhead, then a 4-weight's gonna be a disadvantage because you just can't put enough pressure on that fish. There just isn't enough butt section to really put pressure on that fish.
So, you know, and when you get into things like bigger saltwater fish and salmon, and steelhead, yeah, there is an advantage to having a heavier rod for fighting the fish. But, you know, for normal trout and bass fishing, it's more about the size of the fly that you're throwing. And then as you get into the really big fish, generally, you're fishing bigger flies anyways, the heavier rod will be an advantage.
Here's an email from Phoenix. "I hope this email finds you doing well. I have a few questions for you about trout fishing that I was hoping you could help me with. I was curious to know your thoughts on whether trout will spill over a dam into runoff streams. I've always been curious about this, and I'm hoping to learn more about it from someone with your expertise in trout fishing. Do certain conditions, temperatures, or seasons cause trout to spill over a dam and into the creek below?
Number two, I was hoping you could give me some tips on how to catch cutthroat trout, as well as what techniques and gear flies you recommend for cutthroat. Is it true that big cutthroats take a fly really slowly? Number three, how can I tell if trout live in a small stream? Are there any signs or indicators I should be looking for? Number four, are certain trout more likely to inhabit small streams more than others? Could a trout live in a creek with the deepest part being up to my knee?
I also wanted to express appreciation for everything you do for the fly fishing community. I've learned so much from your podcast and books, and I'm always impressed by your passion and knowledge. Thank you for taking the time to read my email, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts on these topics. Best regards from the Oregon Coast."
Well, Phoenix, let's take your questions one at a time. First of all, yeah, a trout will definitely spill over a dam, particularly in early season when water's going over the top of the dam. If there's turbines where water comes out of the dam during the rest of the season when water's not spilling over the top, they might chop up a fish and probably wouldn't survive. But early in the season with high water, absolutely, trout will be able to get over or get washed over a dam, and it happens quite often.
Tips on catching cutthroat trout. Well, you know, cutthroat trout are pretty much the same as any other trout, so any tips I give you would apply to any trout. Cutthroats in my experience seem to be more surface-oriented and they seem to like big dries. Now, it may be where I've fished for cutthroats, but I've had a lot more success. I fish dry dropper a lot, and I have a lot more success catching cutthroats on the dry fly than I do on the nymph.
They'll occasionally take a nymph and big ones will take a streamer, but I think dry fly is the way to go. And, yes, big cutthroats do rise very slowly, and you do have to hesitate just a bit, particularly with a big dry flight when you're fishing for larger cutthroats because they do come up and they're quite slow when they take a fly. So, you do have to kinda hold back just a moment. Don't hold back too long, but don't set the hook as quickly as you would for a small brook or brown, or rainbow.
Number three, how can you tell if trout live in a small stream? Well, there are a number of things. The best way is to fish it, fish it with a dry dropper as I do, and see if any trout respond. Generally, trout in small streams are not very selective. And, you know, any reasonable dry fly and nymph will appeal to them.
But other things you can do is you can take a water temperature in the summertime. During the summer, you know, at the warmest part of the day, take a water temperature. If it's below 70 degrees, trout can probably survive in that stream. And then turn over some rocks and see if there are any mayflies, stoneflies, or caddisflies. If they're present in this stream, there's a good chance that trout will be somewhere in that stream. Maybe not right where you park your car, but it's worth exploring a little bit. So, those are the things that I look for.
Are certain trout more likely to inhabit small streams than others? Not really. You know, I fish a lot of small streams and I catch browns and brookies, and rainbows, and cutthroats. They seem to be equally interested. Now, when you get way up into the headwaters of small streams, it's often mostly brook trout in the east and cutthroats in the west just because they're a little bit better adapted to surviving in those extreme environments. Because the headwaters of a stream is not very rich and the water is usually quite cold all year long, and browns and rainbows don't seem to like that as much.
But, you know, any trout can live in a small stream. And even if the deepest part is up to your knee, yeah, as long as you have a foot or two of water in a stream, there's a chance that that trout can live there. They might not be very big, but there's a chance that trout can live there. So, I hope those answers help you.
Here's an email from Drew. "I'm 17 and from Pennsylvania. First off, thanks for doing the podcast. The Fly Box has been a source of tons of incredibly useful tips, and the podcast often helps me get through my school day. My question is about hackle. I've been tying flies for about a year now, and I've never owned an actual hackle cape, and I can't get myself to spend so much on hackle that I can only use for certain patterns, but I really do wanna get a cape. So, what's the most versatile color? Is it possible to be able to dye parts of it myself to get the desired colors? Any tips on how to maximize my money for materials is greatly appreciated."
Well, Drew, it's pretty difficult to get the right color by dyeing hackles yourself. That's an art that requires a lot of trial and error and a lot of practice, so I don't think that's a good way to go. There are a number of things you can do to help to save money. One is you can buy half capes. There are half capes that are sold so that you don't have to spend money on a full cape.
And as far as the colors, well, it depends on what flies you're tying. You know, brown and grizzly are essential for things like atoms and parachute atoms, and lots and lots of other patterns. Blue Dun to imitate lots of different mayflies. And then a cream color, cream or light ginger. I mean, those are the four basic ones. You can add other colors. Black is one, if you're tying a lot of terrestrials. But, you know, brown and grizzly, I would start there, get a half cape of brown and grizzly and start there.
The other thing that you might wanna do is to buy what's called, I think, Whiting 100s. You can buy these small packs of long saddle hackles and you can usually get four or five, even six flies from one of the saddle hackles. And they wind really nicely and you can get 'em by size. So, if you're only tying size 16s, you can buy a pack of Whiting 100s with just size 16. Sometimes they range 14, 16. Mostly they're pretty spot on.
So, you can maybe start there and try using those saddle packs and then go from there to cape. What I would also do is most hackles are graded in grade one, grade two, and then Tyer's grade, which is, doesn't have as many small feathers in 'em usually. But I actually prefer the Tyer's grade in most hackle capes because I find that they have better feathers in the sizes that we most often tie 12, 14, 16s, and 18s.
You know, the number of hackled flies that I tie in 24, 26, 28 that I would get on a grade 1 cape is just not worth it for me. So, try Tyer's grade capes, and save your money because, you know, it is beneficial to get a decent hackle cape as opposed to, you know, one that you can get for 20 bucks is generally not gonna have very good feathers on it.
Here's an email from Jet. "I'm just getting into fly fishing and love your "Orvis Guide to Fly Fishing" book. But I have one question. I don't hear anything about it within the fly fishing community, why don't fly fishermen eat the fish they catch? Why is it so bad if you keep a fish? I, for one love eating wild trout. I can see where you wouldn't wanna keep a lot of fish or keep any from small streams and creeks where the numbers are low already, but in highly populated streams, what is the deal? Everyone is always talking about safe-release, barbless hooks and wetting your hands before touching the fish. But I just don't get it. Is it so bad if I wanna feed myself with what nature provides? I don't know. I just wanted your input because I haven't heard anything about it. Thanks."
Well, Jet, you're right. You know, when I first started fly fishing, we kept most of the fish we caught. And I like to eat trout too. I don't kill that many trout. Personally, the reason that I don't keep that many trout is really a matter of convenience. I don't want to have to stop and clean a fish and then, you know, find a way to keep it cool all day long. Either bring a cooler or, you know, find an old arctic creole that keeps fish cool all day, and then I got that hanging around my neck or my waist.
And so, for a lot of us, it's just plain, we like to fish too much and we don't wanna stop and clean a fish. You know, a lot of other people just grew up not hunting or fishing or trapping, and they don't know how to handle a fish. They don't know how to clean it, and maybe they don't even like the idea of cleaning a fish. So, there is that. And the one thing that people need to understand is that catch and release is not a conservation tool. It doesn't really help or hurt a fish population much to release fish.
When we release fish, yeah, we're making the fishing better for ourselves or for someone else the next week or the next month, or maybe even the next year. But it is all about the habitat. It's not a conservation tool, it's a management tool. So, you know, if you like to keep fish and it's legal where you're fishing, and you don't keep too many fish, then there's absolutely nothing wrong with it. And just go ahead and do it.
If you like to eat fish, then keep some fish. Because it is pretty weird what we do. It's pretty strange that we go out there and catch these fish and torture 'em for a couple of minutes and then let 'em go. So, you know, it makes more sense to keep the fish for dinner when you really look at it. So, don't feel bad about keeping the occasional fish for dinner.
Here's an email from Steve from Napa, California. "Been following your podcast over the past year. I've enjoyed them so much that I started from the very beginning. I'm catching up quickly as I listen to one of your podcasts every day during my lunch break. So, here are two questions I haven't heard through your podcast.
Number one, on every fly reel there is a protrusion opposite of the handle of the reel. What is the purpose of this protrusion? It's not big or heavy enough to be a counterweight of any sort and serves no purpose, but every fly reel I've seen has them.
Number two, I have a 9-foot-5-weight, medium-fast action rod. I recently experimented with overlining the rod with a 6-weight line. I like the action, which slows down the rod, which helps on windy conditions. So, what is the difference between overlining a rod by 1-weight size fly line, and having a medium action of the same weight and length? To me, it's the same. So, would taking a medium action rod and underlining it by one weight make it the same effect as having a faster action rod?"
Well, Steve, regarding your first question, that is a counterweight. When the reel spool spins really fast, that does act as a counterweight to the handle. And, you know, it's put on there for a reason because the reel can wobble a bit if it doesn't have that counterweight because of the weight of the handle. It's probably not essential for most trout fishing, but it does act as a counterweight. So, that's what it's there for.
Regarding your second question, you're absolutely right. You know, a lot of the rods that are called fast action rods, in my opinion, are just underlined rods. And, yes, you can take a medium fast action and overline it by one or even two line sizes and slow down the action because you're bending the rod more by putting more mass, a heavier fly line on that rod, you're gonna slow down the action. The line speed's gonna be slightly slower. The rod's gonna bend more, and it's gonna feel more like a medium or even a slow action rod.
So, in the same light, if you have a really slow or medium action rod and you underline it, you're gonna get a crisper rod. You're gonna have to work a little harder on your cast when you underline a rod, and I don't generally recommend it. It just makes casting too hard because you have to put too much effort into bending that rod when you underline it. But you're absolutely right. And there's lots of arguments and lots of fly fishing forums and discussions about underlining, over lining a rod, and the fact that some rods today are just too stiff and they're actually underlined rods.
Pat: Hey, Tom, a couple of things. One is a question, one is a comment. The comment is, I've been watching a lot of your monthly tie-off videos with Tim Flagler recently, and the way he ties parachute posts is incredible. I've been tying for quite some time, and parachute posts have always given me trouble. You know, the fiber is getting all crazy and in my way and getting trapped in my thread. The way he ties it with the furled fibers, and then he clips 'em and they unfold, that's such a game-changer. It gave me so much more confidence in my parachute posts. It opened my world to an entire new arsenal of flies I feel comfortable tying quickly. So, if anybody out there is having trouble with parachute posts, definitely check out Flagler's method on that because, oh man, like I said, total game changer.
And the question I have for you is how do you go about selecting the best deer hair for comparadun wings? Comparaduns are a relatively new pattern for me, getting into them really this season. And the hair that I choose, it doesn't ever seem to tie right for the wing shape that you want. So, yeah, any insight on choosing, you know, what patch of deer hair to use, what qualities do you want in it would be super helpful. Thanks, Tom.
Tom: Well, Pat, yeah, that is a great way to tie parachutes and anyone who hasn't seen that technique can go on to the Orvis Learning Center and watch some of Tim Flagler's videos on how he makes a parachute post. It's a great technique. Regarding selecting the best deer hair for comparadun wings, it comes with experience, but there are things to look for in a piece of deer hair. I find that when I find a piece of deer hair where the hair is fine in diameter, that's one thing I look for. I look for even tips.
When it's on the hide, I look for tips that look even. In other words, the markings on the tips are very consistent and even. And then the other thing to look for, there's a little bit of a black tip, a really thin, spindly black tip on the end of deer hair. And you want that spindly tip to be as short as possible. Generally, the good hair comes from the neck, and the legs, and the face of a deer for that good comparadun hair.
But it does take a bit of looking and critiquing. And, you know, every time I see a piece of deer hair at a fly shop or at a show that looks like it'll tie good comparaduns, I buy it and I take it home. Sometimes it's pretty good, sometimes it's not. And so, you have to tie with it to find out if it's gonna be good enough. Luckily, deer hair isn't that expensive and you can get multiple pieces of it.
And then you'll also find that certain comparadun hair will tie larger flies better. And certain comparadun hair will tie the smaller flies better. When you get down below smaller than a size 18, it's almost impossible to find good deer hair. And, you know, you may wanna substitute something like EP fiber, EP trigger point fiber for the deer hair wing. That's what I do on my small comparaduns. You know, anything size 20 and smaller I find that the EP fiber works better, or the new Fulling Mill floating yarn works better than deer hair.
All right. That's Fly Box for this week. Let's go talk to Charlie about the Wild Trout of California. Well, my guest today is Charlie Schneider. Charlie is the Lost Coast Project Manager. Did I get that right?
Charlie: You got it right.
Tom: Of CalTrout, California Trout, which is a great organization, very effective, very active. You know, it's an organization that I've admired for many years. And I asked Charlie to come on to talk about the various races or subspecies, I don't know how we would lump or split those of rainbow trout in California because, you know, rainbow trout are important all around the world.
You know, I have wild rainbow trout in my backyard, they came from California. I've caught wild rainbow trout on the Derbyshire Wye in the UK, and they came from California. I've caught 'em in Chile in Argentina, and they came from California. So, those of us who fish for rainbow trout, chances are they came from California, right?
Charlie: Yeah. Well, thanks for having me on, Tom. And yeah, I think that's you know, based on the on the historic records and the best literature we have, mostly true. I think Bob Benke's work is, you know, pretty fundamental in our knowledge for that. But, yeah, California is in some ways the birthplace, or at least where trout hatcheries scaled up to the point where they started, you know, shipping fish all over the place. And so, you know, the McCloud River is probably the most famous of them. But, yeah, you hear of McCloud redband rainbows being all over the world.
Tom: Yeah. Have some rainbow trout been raised from other states in and center like Oregon, Washington? Are there rainbow trout that have been used in hatcheries there, or are they mostly California fish?
Charlie: Oh, I think by now there's fish from all over the place. You know, the Kamloops rainbow are, you know, another one that's pretty famous. You know, you'll fish places and you'll hear of that. But, you know, when you look back at the history too, a lot of it is, there's a lot of mixing that happened really early on. You know, McCloud Fish or even Bay Area rainbows, which would've been steelhead or potentially resident steelhead, right, they were anadromous, were shipped off to the East Coast, and then mixed, you know, with other O. mykiss from other places. So, it's really hard to say, you know, where exactly all these lineages came from when, you know, a hatchery in maybe Massachusetts or something is mixing multiple streams.
Tom: Yeah. I remember years ago the stream that I live on now has a population of wild rainbows in Vermont. And I sent a picture to Bob Benke and I thought they must be McCloud rainbows because they look like McCloud rainbows. And he wrote me back very graciously and said, "Well, we really don't know. We can't tell from anatomical features where they came from. There'd have to be a genetic analysis of that fish to be able to tell where it came from originally."
Charlie: Yeah. And I mean, I think, you know, as someone that fishes a lot of these California rivers pretty frequently, I mean, you do see a lot of diversity in, you know, spots and coloring and all that even within one river. I mean, even in the McCloud, you'll catch a fish that looks like a McCloud redband, and, you know, the next fish you'll catch clearly has some steelhead in there still, you know, and it's really chrome and very sparse spotting. So, who's to really know, I think, with some of these, at least until you get to some of the subspecies that have barriers.
Tom: So, before we talk about rainbow trout in general, what's the latest on steelhead versus rainbows? Is there a genetic difference between the two?
Charlie: So, yeah, I mean, my understanding, you know, John McMillan, who you've had on before, is probably the better person ask this question. But, you know, at least in a lot of California, the answer is probably no. You know, to get speciation, right, you need a separation in populations for some amount of time, you know, some longish amount of time, right? To start seeing those changes that happen in the species when it starts to adapt right to its habitat.
And certainly, in California, you know, if we wanna think about California and sort of, I think a good place to start there is its geography because it really does help explain, you know, what fish are where. So, maybe the easiest way to think about California is as a bowl with a spout. And so, kind of on the west side of that bowl, you know, all along its rim, you have the coast ranges and all that water, you know, draining off into the Pacific Ocean.
And then in the middle of the bowl, you have the Central Valley in the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers and those pour out, you know, through the spout of the bowl through San Francisco Bay, right? And, again, those are all anadromous waters. And then on the east side of the bowl, you have kind of our terminal, what I call our terminal lake species. You have rivers that flow down into terminal lakes or endorheic lakes, which just means they evaporate, right? They don't have an outlet.
So, this is your lake Tahoe, is part of a system that eventually drains into Pyramid Lake, right, which doesn't have an outlet. And then you have a number of smaller versions of that up north. So, this is like Warner Lakes, Eagle Lake, and you have subspeciees of trout, you know, found in those lakes that are, you know, they're kind of stuck there. They can't go anywhere.
And so, that's kind of the helpful way to think about, you know, how you get these subspecies of fish is, you know, they're connected to anadromous waters. Sure, there may be residents, and in some places like on the McCloud River or some of our spring-fed rivers in the north of the state, you know, the likelihood of getting residents is quite high because there's good resources and good cold water. So, a higher proportion of those fish are gonna stay put.
And then, certainly, as you get closer to southern California, right, we have some Southern steelhead here which, you know, in theory go all the way down to San Diego. And those fish are almost certainly, you know, anadromous with maybe a smaller proportion of resident fish.
I think just that understanding of, like, understanding fish need to be where the conditions are good for them, right, there's food, there's cold water that really helps understand anadromy and non-anadromy, right? For a fish to be non-anadromous, it's gonna need those proper conditions to you survive year-round. And so, yeah. then when you mix, you know, what's what, I mean, at the end of the day, they're all O. mykiss, right? They're all the same species, and they can interbreed, and obviously, we see that with even, you know, cutthroat, right? Potentially breeding with rainbows and getting cutthroats and other, you know, closely related species being able to interbreed.
But, yeah, certainly steelhead can interbreed with resident rainbows. But we also know from some recent genetic work from Mike Miller's lab that, you know, they are finding snippets, and I'm not a geneticist, but snippets of the genes that suggest, like, this fish may be a steelhead or predisposed to be anadromous. And I think an important finding in recent years has been this finding of a premature migration gene which suggests summer steelhead or, you know, spring-run Chinook.
So, actually getting down to the run timing of the fish, you know, with some genetic signal, potential genetic signal. I think, you know, there's a robust scientific debate going over that of how much those genes can actually show. So, it's a really interesting piece of the puzzle, right? What causes these fish to migrate when? How that adaptation came about? You know, and I think as an ecologist, I like to think about why, right? Why is natural selection putting this pressure on this fish at this time to make it do this thing? I just think it's a really neat piece of the puzzle.
Tom: Yeah. So, is there a genetic marker that says a rainbow won't be anadromous?
Charlie: You know, that's a good question, and I'm not sure the answer to that. I mean, I know they've found, you know, a section of the gene that suggests anadaromy, you know, a higher likelihood of the anadromy. So, my assumption would be if that's missing, then obviously, that perhaps the opposite is true.
But yeah, again, I'm not an expert on those genetics, and John McMillan maybe a better person to ask, or maybe you can get Mike Miller on, you know, in the future. But it's really neat cutting-edge work that's really, I think, changing, you know, go back to Benke and scale counts and vertebrae counts, and all these other ways to kind of determine the likeness of fish. And now we have these new genetic tools that do it, you know, in a totally different way.
Tom: Yeah. So, let's talk about the various, would you call 'em races or are they actually subspecies of rainbows in California?
Charlie: I mean, I generally call 'em subspecies, but again, I think that's up to, you know, if you're a lumper or splitter. Your general theory of how you wanna manage these fish, because that's really what we're talking about, right? I think to me, kind of where the rubber meets the road on all this is what protections are we offering these fish or how are we managing them?
Tom: Right.
Charlie: Yeah. So, I think I'd like to at least touch on some of our cutthroats, which, you know, not rainbows, but we talked about those terminal lake fish. I'm a big fan of Lahontan cutthroats, and then there's also Paiutes. And so, those are gonna be on the east side. And then, of course, we have coastal cutthroat in California, southernmost extent. So, those are really on our north coast rivers.
The eel is generally noted as the southernmost extent of coastal cutthroat. So, we do have some cutthroat out here, and those would be for the east side would really be remnants of kind of the ice age and Lake Lahaton, which would've been a huge lake, you know, covering a bunch of the basin range country in Nevada. And, you know, that lake slowly evaporated as fish pushed up into, you know, a number of small watersheds out there. And of course, Lahontans are still in Pyramid Lake, you know, and they get huge, so definitely a fish people are interested in angling for. And a blast. And, you know, it's like fishing on the moon, I always tell people. So, definitely a trip worth doing at least once. It can be quite cold out there, but yeah.
And then I think for, for the most part, you know, I would consider the rest to be rainbows or redband rainbows. So, kind of going North to South. Well, maybe starting on the coast, right? We've got our coastal rainbows and steelhead, which, you know, get anywhere they can, you know, in terms of anadromy. And then on the McCloud, you know, we talked a little bit about the McCloud already, but there's a distinct species or distinct subpopulation of redband in the McCloud that's up above a number of natural fish passage barriers, McCloud Falls, which are these three large waterfalls that were caused by a lava flow. And so, there's just a couple small creeks above those falls that have a distinct population, Swamp and Trout Creek.
And then, you know, through rainbow trout stalking, you know, for anglers, there's been a mixing of those populations. So, really this thought of the kind of genetically distinct population is really just a cheap Haven Creek. And those have been transplanted now to try to know, try to do some hedging against extinction for those guys. And, of course, those red bands, you know, historically would've come down over the falls potentially, right? And mixed with coastal steelhead and coastal rainbow trout in the McCloud, in the pit system as well. And again, these are really interesting systems in California because of Mount Shasta, and it's really the headwaters of the state. Because of Mount Shasta, because of the volcanism, because of the volcanic rock. There's just these massive springs that pop out all over the place up there, and so you get really good cold water.
And this is a big part of why in the late 1800s, one of the first fish hatcheries in California started on the McCloud River under what is now Lake Shasta. So, prior to Lake Shasta there is this initial hatchery, it was called Baird Hatchery that was started to start propagating both salmon and trout, actually. So, salmon as well, were shipped back east to make up for declining Atlantic salmon populations. And so, that Baird hatchery is really where those initial McCloud River rainbows came from. And again, they were sent all over the world. They were also sent to the Bay Area pretty initially where there was another facility that was starting to hatch fish, collecting brood stock from Bay Area tributaries, including Sonoma Creek, which is just over the hill for me here.
I think now if you went and looked at Sonoma Creek, you wouldn't think of it as a trout stream, but it does still have steelhead, and occasionally it'll get Chinook, and it certainly has some resident trout. And so, at that Bay Area facility, those fish were mixed as well with McClouds and shipped all over the place. So, that's where, you know, we talked earlier about you start to get some mixing in those hatch facilities. So yeah, it's hard to say exactly where.
So, yeah. Those McCloud fish that facility was in place until I think late 1930s when Lake Shasta was built. And then they, you know, essentially, moved it below the dam. And I think, you know, important to note, you know, they would send train cars to the East Coast, and when they came back, they would bring East Coast species. So, we also have shad and strip bass, and, you know, brookies and brown trout out here in California that all kind of happened in that same time as part of that exchange.
Tom: Yeah. And, you know, interesting question that I've had from podcast listeners. They also sent cutthroat trout back East, and they tried, Seth Green I know, tried to introduce them in the East. And as far as I know, there has never been a successfully reproducing population of cutthroats in the East. Rainbows, you know, in certain rivers can thrive in the East, but cutthroats have never established themselves. Do you have any idea why?
Charlie: I mean, cutthroats, you know, I don't get to work with them very often, to be honest. I will say, and, you know, maybe this hints at that is, you know, on the East side of California where we have Lahontan Cutthroats and we also have rainbow trout and brook trout, all those non-native species out-compete the native species. And so, a lot of work's being done out there actually to eradicate brookies, and rainbows, and browns in certain places in order to reestablish populations for Lahontans. So, you know, I'm not sure that's true of all places, but certainly here in California we see that competition between species favors other species and not LCTs as we call them, Lahontan cutthroats. So, yeah, perhaps that's part of it. I mean, you know, there certainly could be other things there, but defintely something [crosstalk 01:04:02.225].
Tom: Yeah, I mean, you would've thought that they would've at least interbred with the rainbows that have already established here, but, you know, you just don't see it. So, I've always been curious about why they're... I mean, there's a few streams. I know the North Fork of the White they stock cutthroats, and I think there's a couple of streams in Maryland where they stocked cutthroats fairly recently, but again, they haven't established themselves.
Charlie: Interesting. Yeah. There must be some additional answer other than the one I gave you.
Tom: Yeah. I have no idea. I'm just curious. All right. Anyway, so let's continue on with your...
Charlie: Yeah. So, back up North, you know, I think we could kind of lump a number of other, you know, rainbow or redbands together, which would be, again, these are sort of terminal lake fish. So, in the very far Northeast of California, we have Goose Lake Redbands, Eagle Lake, and Warner Lake Redbands. And so, all these fish are, again, they're in those terminal lake systems. And we're talking, you know, pretty small populations for all of these fish.
I was just talking with one of my colleagues about this and he was actually saying that in the last drought, sorry, for the Goose Lake Redbands, you know, again, these are terminal lakes, right? So, they're reliant on inflow from these mountains, right? So, when you get a drought, evaporation is still happening in the lake, right? And it's also, you know, reducing the stream flow. So, in the last drought, the Goose Lake Redbands were basically restricted to like a single pool, which was his thinking. He has some photos of being up there.
So, you know, really these are populations, they're almost sort of historic populations, right? They're really on the brink now that sort of the ice age is gone, and the climate's getting warmer. And so, what we do to protect those I think is a big question mark. And he was saying that, you know, he was really excited because kind of their understanding of that really helped them realize like, oh, we need more deep pools for these fish, right? We need more drought refugia. We need to potentially be moving these fish around, right? Again, to hedge our bets, right? If this one population shrinks out, we'll still have more.
And certainly, in these systems, some of that is human cost, right? Grazing in a lot of these systems is problematic. Water use as well. For example, in Eagle Lake. So, Eagle Lake Rainbows, I would say they're pretty famous. You know, they're not like McCloud fish, but they do get transplanted pretty frequently, in part, because these fish that live in terminal lakes can handle more alkalinity in the water and the Eagle Lake fish are those. So, the easy way to explain is they're just kind of more durable, right? They can handle warmer, more alkaline water.
And so, Eagle Lake fish have been moved all over the place as well, but that population is pretty hatchery dependent now, in part, because its spawning tributaries have been degraded through draining and meadow draining, and other things like that. So, you know, for these fish that are maybe living in the lake, but they need to run up a stream to spawn, you know, if the spawning tributaries are degraded it obviously causes problems for that population.
So, yeah, those are kind of the far Northeast fish. And when I say far Northeast, I mean far Northeast. I mean, we're talking the very corner with Oregon, and, you know, for most of these populations, we share some of that range with Oregon. Yeah. And then, you know, kind of on the other end of the spectrum if we jump all the way down to the bottom of the Central Valley, we're talking like Bakersfield Area. This is where we get our state fish, the golden trout. And there's three populations of different golden trout in the Kern River Basin.
And so, you know, for folks who don't know California, the San Joaquin Valley is kind of the southern portion of the Central Valley. And historically, there was a huge freshwater lake down there that would've expanded and contracted based on rain flow. And a lot of this has been drained and modified now for agriculture, right? This is kind of the bread basket of the U.S. And so, the Kern River was one of the main feeder streams there and it now has a reservoir up in the upper current called Lake Isabella.
So, all these populations of golden trout are now above that reservoir. And again, you have natural and now some manmade barriers kind of intentionally put in to try to preserve those unique genetics. And those three are just the California golden trout, right? That's our state fish. That's the one that's, I mean, as soon as you see a picture of one, you know, especially if you're an angler, you're like, what is that? Because they're beautiful, yellow and orange and, you know, gold, and they maintain their parr marks through adulthood. So, really just gorgeous little trout.
And so, those guys are in the Upper Kern Basin. And again, similar to the cutthroat on the East side, the Lahontans, you know, really threats to them are competition from other trout species. And then, you know, getting habitats for grazing being the big thing that happens in these kind of higher elevation mountain meadow systems. And then, there's two other subspecies. There's the Kern River Rainbow and then the little Kern Golden. And so, you know, having a map in front of you if you really wanna understand that can help, but it really just has to do with the little sub-basins that they're in up there.
And again, that geographic separation that's making it so the two populations aren't interbreeding with either each other or obviously, with rainbows or any other golden trout that are moving around in the system. So, again, the little Kern Golden and the Kern River Rainbow are both, you know, really small populations.
Tom: So, goldens can interbreed with rainbows?
Charlie: Correct. Yeah. And have. And so, I think, you know, my understanding is that the Kern River Rainbow may not actually be like its own subspecies. You know, there's potentially some interbreeding there with regular rainbow trouts, you know, that are a result of stocking into the basin.
Tom: Right. Were there ever rainbows stocked where the populations of goldens are?
Charlie: You know, that's a good question. I'm not sure. You know, so the other thing with Golden Trout that's probably worth knowing in California is they have also been stocked pretty widely across the state, mostly in high-elevation lakes. You know, you can imagine the Sierra Nevada is this big, you know, kind of bony mountain range. It's granitic. You know, there's a lot of sort of glacial lakes from when glaciers melted. And so, you know, they would do aerial stocking, dumping fish out of planes historically. And a lot of those were golden trout. So, there's a lot of golden trout that are in places they kind of shouldn't be in a lot of these high-elevation lakes.
Tom: Yeah. I think there's some populations in Wyoming too, right, of goldens...
Charlie: Oh, really? No, I didn't know about that.
Tom: ...that were stocked. Yeah, in the Wind River Range, I think there's golden trout that were stocked.
Charlie: Oh, cool. I mean, once you see a golden trout, you know, it's not surprising, right, that people would try to put them in other places because they're such an interesting one to fish.
Tom: Yeah. Something I've always wanted to catch and never have. But I guess there aren't many opportunities anymore, right? I mean, it's really limited.
Charlie: Yeah. So, it's funny, California has this great program that actually CalTrout helped start back in the '70s called the Heritage Trout Challenge. And so, the program is, you know, for all anglers, and you try to go out and catch, you know, one of all these native trout. And to complete the challenge, you actually only need to get six of them. And you're supposed to take a photo, you know, to kind of prove that you've done it.
And we just heard from Department of Fish and Wildlife last week that only 500 people, they just had their 500th person complete the challenge. So, it's a pretty select group of people, you know, when you think about how many people are in California, how many anglers we have, right? We're the most populated state in the U.S. That have actually gone out and even got six of these.
And yeah, you're totally right, all those goldens are tough to get to, right? I think those far Northeast fish, you could kind of lump them the same. And then, you know, Paiute cutthroat are essentially in one, you know, watershed in their native range. So, you know, there's a few of those fish that are pretty easy to check off, and then there's several more that are tough, you know, they're tough to find. You're talking hiking in and, you know, staying the night to be able to get an opportunity to go after these guys.
Tom: So, you said you have to get six of these native species.
Charlie: Yeah. To complete the challenge, you gotta get six.
Tom: How many potential different subspecies and species are there in the, you know...?
Charlie: So, there's 12 total. Yeah.
Tom: Twelve total.
Charlie: Twelve total. So, the three cutthroat, the coastal cutthroat up North, little Lahontans and Paiutes, and then coastal rainbows, Eagle Lake rainbows, the McCloud redband, which, you know, we talked about is just basically in, you know, three small streams. Goose Lake redbands, Warner Lake redbands, and then the three Goldens, the Kern River, California, and Little Kern.
Tom: So, the three goldens are actually different subspecies?
Charlie: Correct. Yeah, they're considered different subspecies. And I think most folks I know that have done the challenge, you try to check them all off on one trip because they're all relatively close to each other. Yeah, really neat program. And I think, you know, people think Oregon, Washington, Alaska is these big fishing states, and California, it's pretty tough to beat in terms of native fish diversity. And especially Sonoma is, you know, again, that geographic and hydrologic diversity sort of has a forcing action on the species diversity as well.
Tom: What is the southernmost trout population in California?
Charlie: Well, I mean, if we're talking steelhead, you know, which I think is fair, the southernmost occurrence that I know of is in the San Mateo River, which is in San Diego County. And that was in like 2001, and they actually changed the Endangered Species Act listing for Southern steelhead after that to go all the way to the Mexico border.
And so, yeah, in theory, right, that listing says, you know, this is populous, this is habitat that these fish could be a part of. And, you know, a great person for you to talk to would be Sandy Jacobson, who also works for CalTrout. She is really the expert on Southern steelhead, you know, and really fish in Southern California in general.
Tom: Okay.
Charlie: And CalTrout and Sandy do a ton of restoration work in Southern California, you know, to try to help bring back these populations of Southern steelhead, which, you know, are really on the brink. And obviously, there's a lot of change to their ecosystem in Southern California. But I think there's some, you know, a number of bright spots down there and you know, really big opportunities to bring some of those populations back.
Tom: Is angling for those fish prohibited, or are people allowed to fish for 'em?
Charlie: No, for the most part it's prohibited. But, you know, in Southern California too, right, there's a lot of sort of equity issues around opportunity for fishing. And so, you know, I think the CDFW and certainly, angling groups, like, we try to do our best to kind of balance that, right, fishing for warm water species. And obviously, there's stocking as well in lakes, and even in some rivers down there. So, really trying to balance conservation with opportunity in Southern California because we want people to get out and fish, right? We want people to have that experience. And, you know, obviously, people travel all over the state to go fishing as well.
Tom: So, if someone were to fish in one of these streams in Southern steelhead streams, they could be cited, or is it just you can't target 'em?
Charlie: It's typically you can't target them, you know, and I'm not sure, right? These fish come in when the water's real high, you know, I'm not sure how you would even target them. It would be tough. People certainly did historically. I've seen pictures from the 1920s on the Ventura River of guys with whatever, 10 steelhead, right? But I think fishing forums would be pretty darn tough these days. I mean, and again, the populations are really, really low, so pretty hard to encounter a fish when there's only a handful left.
Tom: It's hard enough to catch a steelhead when the river's full of them much less when there aren't many of them. All right. So, what else? Did we kind of cover all the different wild trout in California?
Charlie: Yeah. I mean, you know, we kind of touched on 'em all. I'm a little bit of a lumper on 'em in terms of how they work, I think their life histories, and sort of how we think about them is helpful in separating them into those different buckets.
Yeah. I think, you know, if folks are interested in more information on this, I mean, we both mentioned Bob Benke, but, you know, his "Native Trout of Western North America" book is a really good resource on all this stuff. I mean, I know when I first got my hands on that book, I pretty much read it cover to cover. I mean, I'm a pretty hopeless fish nerd, but I suspect many of your listeners are as well.
Tom: Yeah. Oh, yeah.
Charlie: So, I mean, it's a great book. I'm not sure it's even in print anymore. I found mine in this bookstore. It's like finding a cold nugget in there. But that's a great book to, you know, folks who are interested in understanding these native fish. And yeah, I mean, maybe the other thing I would add is, I talked a little bit about how low some of these populations are and, you know, some of the reasons.
But, you know, that hatchery stocking and sort of willy-nilly putting fish in different places, you know, really had a big impact on a lot of these subspecies that are really special, right? Have these really unique traits, Eagle Lake Rainbows, for example, right? Being able to handle that alkaline water. Lahontan cutthroats, same thing. So, you know, in some ways, it feels like a bit of a waste to be stocking additional fish on these populations.
But the good news is California has a number of programs including the Wild Trout Program, again, which is kind of part of that Heritage Trout Challenge that was, again, started in the '70s. CalTrout helped kick that program off as well, and basically, requires the state to establish wild trout waters and manage them as well as sustaining wild trout populations.
And that was really a sea change, I think, in how we manage our fisheries in California, because, you know, post-World War II kind of stocking was the name of the game. I mean, there's still a website that you can look up and, like, see where the hatchery truck is dropping off fish and when, which to me, as a sportsman, isn't really the experience I'm looking for. But I think this wild trout program really, you know, helps sort of create awareness and then also just forces the management of these fisheries that has really helped us understand what... Like, do some of that science as well. Like, what wild trout could thrive, you know, and what a self-sustaining population can handle in terms of angling pressure.
So, it really is a neat program and they're still designating new waters every year to be part of that program. Hat Creek was one of the first, maybe one of the more well-known spring creeks here in California, like your classic, Montana stream through a grassy field. So, yeah, I think it's really a neat program. And again, you know, really helps us in understanding, right, what we need to do to preserve these fish into the future. Because, yeah, it is a really important piece of California's heritage. It's a different state than it certainly was in the '70s and '80s, but you know, I do think there's still a lot of anglers that care really deeply. I mean, you know, certainly enough to support us as an organization.
Tom: Yeah. So, tell me what are some current projects that CalTrout's involved in some of the bigger projects?
Charlie: Yeah, so we've grown a lot in the last several years. I think there's like 57 employees at CalTrout now. And we have seven regional offices across the state. So, you know, we work all over the state, anywhere trout and salmon are on restoration projects. I mean, we do a ton of restoration. And then we also have a policy shop, an advocacy shop in Sacramento that works with the Legislature, and Fish and Game Commission, and things like that to help improve, you know, salmon and steelhead from the policy side.
So, yeah, big projects. I mean, I am personally partial to big game rules because that's one of the things I work on. And so, obviously, we're thrilled to see the Klamath dams coming out right now. They just, all four or one of them's gone already, was taken out last year. Three other ones are currently draining. They've all had, you know, either holes blown in the bottom of 'em or their historic, like, bypasses reopened.
And so, all the Klamath dams are draining, and they'll all be once we reach the dry season, you know, getting in there with the heavy equipment and removing those. And so, we'll have a reconnected Klamath River, which is really exciting. And then a big project I'm working on is on the Eel River. So, this is another big dam removal project where the project owner Pijing Ye [SP] decided not to renew their license to operate these two hydropower dams, and is going be removing them.
So, we're really thrilled to be seeing that. The Eel will become California's longest free-flowing river. And the Eel is obviously, a really important steelhead river. You know, maybe, I mean, definitely one of kind of the birthplaces of fly fishing for steelhead in California, you know, probably along with the Russian and a few of the rivers on the Santa Cruz Coast. So, yeah, really exciting time in California with some big dam removals on some really important rivers on the North Coast. And we do...
Tom: Excuse me, about how many miles on the Eel will be open to anadromous fish once those dams are removed?
Charlie: Yeah. So, we helped commission a study by a grad student at Humboldt State, and she found, you know, obviously, it changes based on water year, but up to 288 miles steelhead habitat and about 89 miles of Chinook habitat in the dam.
Tom: Wow. Fantastic.
Charlie: But it's really important habitat because it's headwaters habitat. So, you know, California has a Mediterranean climate, which means we get all our rain in the winter for the most part and then we have kind of a drought every summer. And so, those headwaters are really important because the water stays cool.
And then the Eel River especially, which runs South to North, you know, kind of runs, it seems like backwards. It's really important for this fish to have access to that cold water in the summer, and there's some relatively high mountains there. So, we've been doing a lot of work over the last couple of years to kind of quantify that habitat, and we wanted to prove to ourselves that getting this involved and this thing was worth it and it definitely is.
And interestingly, the area below one of the reservoirs is called Graveley Valley, and it was thought to be one of the most important Chinook spawning areas in the whole Eel River. So, I think some really high potential to see, you know, good recovery in these species, you know, both for Chinook and potentially even summer steelhead which were likely using that upper basin as well.
Tom: That's exciting stuff. And I'm sure that there're probably information on the CalTrout website on this, right? If people wanna investigate it further.
Charlie: Yep. Yeah, And then, yeah, we're doing tons of projects across the state, you know, meadow restoration in the Sierras, you know, more barrier removals for Southern steelhead in Southern California. Lots of monitoring work across the state as well. And then, yeah, all sorts of different restoration creating off-channel habitat, large woods, you know, those kind of projects statewide.
Tom: Yeah. Well, you guys are doing great work. Charlie, I wanna thank you for the dedication and the organization, and all the work that CalTrout's doing.
Charlie: Oh, thanks so much, Tom. Yeah, I mean, it's a labor of love. You know, everyone really likes what we do and cares a lot about these fish. And, yeah, they certainly need it, you know? It's not an easy job, but we're really fortunate to have a lot of great supporters that allow us to do this work. So, hopefully, a better future for fish in California.
Tom: I hope so. I hope so. All right, Charlie. Well, thank you for talking to us today. That was great, great overview. And I just find it fascinating all of those different subspecies and races of trout that exist in California. And as you said, because of the diverse topography in geology.
Charlie: Yeah. It's definitely an interesting state if you're a fish. Well, we'll have to get you out here and show you some of those subspecies you haven't got your hands on yet.
Tom: Yeah, I'd like to do that. I'd like to do that. Especially one of those goldens, just to see one.
Charlie: Let's do it. Drop us a line. We'll get you out there.
Tom: Okay. All right, Charlie. Thanks so much.
Charlie: Thanks, Tom.
Tom: Okay. Bye-bye.
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